Fun French car set to lift the Irish gloom

Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 00:00

ROAD TEST:There is not enough fun in our lives anymore. We sit at home, commute to work or shop at the weekend, surrounded by the worst kinds of depression.

A constant barrage of promissory notes, of legal or political controversy. Joe Duffy, Six-One and Vincent Browne have sucked the laughter from our lungs, and when we peek out on to our driveways, there’s usually little enough joy to be had there, either. A succession of grey, silver, black and dark blue hatchbacks and saloons, all purchased with an overriding obsession for low CO2 emissions and frugality. Of fun, there is little or none.

It doesn’t have to be like this. It was once the case that fun cars were either too expensive, too impractical or too unreliable to be bought by the majority of us – but that has long since changed.

Take, as an exemplar, this new Citroen DS3 cabrio. Citroen’s revival of the DS badge has been a huge success for the French firm, a rare glimmer of such at a time of retrenchment and falling sales for the big three French carmakers. In 30 months, 300,000 DS models have been sold globally, 200,000 of them the perky little DS3 hatch.

In Ireland, the success is rather more muted, if it’s there at all. Citroen’s sales have been nibbled away by the German premium boys at the top end and by the Korean warranty-wonders at the cheap end. The DS brand and the DS3 have failed to capture Irish hearts, hardly a surprise when you remember both were introduced in the middle of 2009, when few were buying cars, and few would even consider a quasi-premium sports hatch from a French manufacturer.

Let’s get the Frenchness, if that’s what bothers you, out of the way with first. The DS3 feels distinctly Germanic inside thanks to high levels of quality and big, comfy seats. There’s more space inside than its main Anglo-German rival, the Mini, and outside it’s little short of gorgeous. Those chunky looks, that sharkfin b-pillar and the new 3D-effect tail lights all live up to the promise of the DS brand being the motoring answer to France’s great luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton or Hermès.

Brimming with fun

And it really is fun. Okay, so we’ve been testing the 150bhp 1.6 petrol turbo engine (co-developed with BMW) which will only be available on special order in Ireland, but the DS3 cabrio brims over with fun. It’s light on its toes and agile. And if it gives in too easily to lurching understeer (especially in the wet) when pushed, then at lower efforts it’s bubbling and fizzing with enthusiasm for the drive.

The convertible roof is a neat installation, and given that it’s really a glorified sunroof (the pillars and side rails of the roof remain in place) then it’s rather well suited to Irish conditions. A 16-second retract or replace time and the fact that you can lower or raise the roof at speeds of up to 120km/h means that you can take advantage of the scattered bright spells.

The boot, at 245 litres, is more practically sized than that of the Mini cabrio or the Fiat 500C. And the boot lid opens with a delightfully quirky motion, cantilevering up almost flush with the body. A shame that the actual boot opening is so small, meaning larger items won’t go through to the space beyond, but it is an inevitable compromise for an open-top car.

Top down, and there’s plenty of wind and fresh air to enjoy, but even at motorway pace, buffeting is kept to a minimum. Top up and refinement and insulation are excellent, aside from a tendency for road noise to echo up through the rear wheel arches. The optional roof colours include a deep indigo blue and a version woven with the DS logo that stands millimetrically proud of the cloth and can be traced with your fingers.

Low running costs

You can’t even use the excuse of purchase price or running costs to count yourself out of the fun-fest. The basic 1.2 VTi petrol model will cost from about €21,500, and the main-selling 90bhp 1.4 HDI diesel, with its Band A 94g/km CO2 output, will be about €24,500. So if you’re in the market for one of those dingy diesel hatchbacks (and don’t strictly need the cabin or boot space) you can afford one of these.

The launch of the DS3 was a new beginning for the DS name, resurrected from its legendary 1955 origins. The follow-on launches of the DS4 and DS5 haven’t captured the same critical acclaim of the DS3, but perhaps can be best described as the end of the new beginning. The DS brand’s future will snap more firmly into focus at this April’s Shanghai motor show, when a Mercedes CLA-sized three-box saloon, a compact SUV and a large executive model will all be shown off.

Will any of these new DS cars make more of an impact in the Irish market? It is, perhaps, doubtful, but that would be a crying shame. We can continue to buy the same grey, silver, blue and black hatches. We can continue to listen endlessly to Cooper, Hook, McWilliams, Kenny and Duffy. We can keep firm on our slide into national apathy.

Or we – some of us at least – could buy a cute French convertible, possibly painted in a bright, happy shade of yellow. We could open the roof on a rare sunny day and get some vitamin D. We could listen, on a rainy day, to the evocative sound of raindrops on the canvas roof.

We could do all that safe in the knowledge that our motor tax and fuel bills will remain low and sensible.

We could – in a vehicular sense, if nothing else – cheer up.

Couldn’t we?

The lowdown: Citroen DS Cabrio

Engine:1,560cc 4-cylinder turbo diesel with 92bhp @ 4,000rpm and 230Nm of torque @ 1,750rpm.

(Figures given are for the 1.6 HDI manual, but at first this engine will be available solely with an EGS 6-speed automatic gearbox until the manual model becomes available in the summer.)

0-100kmh:11.8secs

Official l/100km:3.8l/100km (74.3mpg)

Emissions (motor tax):99g/km (€180)

Features:Full-length retracing cloth roof, rear parking sensors, air conditioning, USB connectivity, cruise control and speed limiter are all standard.

Price (approx):€24,500